Manuka Honey : Antibiotic & Superfood… But Does It Justify The 'Superfood' Label?

If you’ve spent any period of time in a health and fitness gym, then you’ve probably had somebody tell you how you need to get Manuka honey in your life because it’s ‘healthy’ or because it’s a ‘superfood’. Now this is all very well, but how many of these recommendations are legit, and how many are little more than diddly squit!? Let’s delve a little deeper and see if the hype is justified!

Manuka Honey’s Origins

Manuka honey is as interesting as it is rare, and this is reflected in its availability and hence price with an average jar costing around £10, with some reaching as much as £35! It is a product of the bees that pollinate the Manuka tree all the way over in beautiful New Zealand. Now I spent the first 4 years of my life in New Zealand, and even there the cost of Manuka was steep, but then the native Maoris and whites were also capable of sourcing their own to consume as food, use on wounds and to prevent risk of infection.

Application to health and wellbeing

Manuka honey has been used for its health benefits for centuries, ranging from oral ingestion (swallowed) to topical application (spread on wound), mainly for its antibacterial properties. Manuka honey exerts its health benefits in two main ways, through its antibacterial capacity via its methylglyoxal content, and by acting as a water barrier for wounds. Through the removal of water, you are eradicating the medium needed in order for bacteria to proliferate. Incidentally Manuka honey is now used by the NHS in some instances.

Risk of antibiotic resistance

Manuka honeys ability to fight infection is highly regarded, but is becoming ever more interesting in the wake of leading professors alluding to the possibility that we could soon be at risk of becoming resistant to antibiotics. Last week BBC Headlines read ‘Antibiotics risk ‘as big a risk as terrorism’, now this might seem a bit brash, but experts explain if we don’t take action the consequences could be devastating to health, with Dame Sally Davies going as far to say that “a simple cut to your finger could leave you fighting for your life”! Resistance to the antibiotics available to us today could expose us to the health challenges faced during the 19th century (BBC News Health, 2013)! There are currently 17 classes of antibiotics available to us, but the rate at which we are discovering new ones has slowed dramatically due to poor funding, less financial return to manufacturers, and more pressing issues such as acute illnesses such as diabetes and cancer…soon this could all change, and indeed it might have to! The problem we face is that human beings are gradually becoming resistant to our current range of antibiotics, which could mean that people die (sorry to be morbid) of infection from relatively routine procedures such as surgery!

Could Manuka help with this problem?

Sadly the answer is no. Although Manuka honey’s infection fighting benefits are clear, it is not the remedy to antibiotic resistance because according to Cooper, Jenkins and Henriques et al. (2010), it is just as susceptible to bacterial resistance as any other antibiotic. This said, Manuka honey is still deemed to be effective in most people at present, so get it on some wholegrain toast in the morning, stir it through some hot water and lemon for a detoxifying beverage or swallow a teaspoon or two in the morning to give your immune system the boost it needs.

Things to consider with Manuka honey

Check the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) which is understood to be a measure of antibiotic potency. The higher the UMF the more effective the honey is deemed to be, so aim for a UMF above 10 if you want to reap the anti-bacterial benefits. Also be sure to look into the methylglyoxal (MGO) content of the honey, which although the mechanism isn’t completely clear is now also thought to significantly contribute to Manuka honey’s antiseptic superiority.

How is it different from other honeys?

Pretty much all honeys contain a naturally occurring active agent that supports health, be it the large amount of friendly bacteria that include 6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria, or the natural source of energy it delivers. Even the pollen you find in local unprocessed honey can relieve some of the irritation caused by hay fever! Plus, the MGO content mentioned above is also said to be 100 times greater in Manuka than in ordinary honey.

NOTE: If you feel Manuka honey is a little too pricey for you, or you just prefer the taste and consistency of ordinary honey, then consider the advice offered by WHFoods, (2001):

“Look for honey produced in the summer by flower-fed bees—it's most likely to contain friendly lactobacilli and bifidobacteria”, which could still offer antibiotic benefits!

So if you feel yourself becoming a little run down through daily stress, general fatigue, repetitive bugs or illnesses, or maybe you’re overtraining at the gym and want to boost your immune system. If any of these apply…why not give Manuka a try?

Supplements

Mix 2 teaspoons of Manuka honey with approx 50ml of hot water and stir, now pour this into your protein shake for a quick release carbohydrate which results in an insulin spike, maximising the uptake of your protein (you can do the same with your creatine too).

Manuka honey mixed with peanut butter also makes for a delicious topping to rice cakes or ryvita.

References

BBC News Health, (2013). Antibiotics resistance ‘as big a risk as terrorism’ –medical chief. Retrieved 12th March, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21737844

Cooper, R, A., Jenkins, L., Henriques, A, F, M., Duggan, R, S & Burton, N, F. (2010). Absence of bacterial resistance to medical-grade manuka honey. European Journal of Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. 29:10 1237-1241.

Mail Online, (2009). Is your Manuka honey really worth the money? Retrieved 12th March, 2013, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1134423/Is-manuka-honey-really-worth-money.html   

The Telegraph, (2009). The Benefits Of Manuka Honey. Retrieved 12th March, 2013, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/wellbeing/5979247/The-benefits-of-Manuka-honey.html

The World’s Healthiest Foods, (2001). Honey. Retrieved 12th March, 2013, from discount supplements

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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